Why Cities Without Houses is the best-kept secret at Soho House

Why Cities Without Houses is the best-kept secret at Soho House | Soho House

After many years heading up our Houses without borders community, Dominique Bellas explains why it’s worthy of your attention

Wednesday 31 January 2024   By Soho House

This year, Cities Without Houses – our membership that’s designed for those who live in an area where there isn’t a physical Soho House – celebrates another successful year. Since 2016, it has played a vital role in bringing our global community together. Today, there is a Cities Without Houses presence in more than 80 cities, from Bali to Buenos Aires. 

With further expansion on the horizon, we thought now would be a good time to catch up with Group Membership Director, Dominique Bellas, to learn more about why Cities Without Houses should be on every member’s radar.

cities without houses

Above: Dominique Bellas, Soho House Group Membership Director

For those who don’t know, what is Cities Without Houses?
‘Cities Without Houses (or CWH for short) is a type of membership for creatives who travel, but don’t have a physical Soho House in their city. They want to be part of our global and local communities, have access to all of the Houses around the world, plus all of the benefits, and be able to attend our events. That’s what it is in a nutshell. 

‘CWH also adds value to our existing Soho House members. They travel all over the world, so if our CWH events can offer a community or a home away from home and a chance for them to meet like-minded people when they’re travelling, that’s special. If I was a London member going to Seoul for the first time and there was a friendly membership community there to meet me, that would feel really valuable.’

How much does membership cost? 
‘As there is no physical House, there’s no registration fee and consequently the rate is slightly less expensive than Every House membership. We also offer the membership to Under 27 members for half the price, just like we do in our Houses. You’ll be able to visit our clubs when you’re travelling, and then if you’re in one of the 80-plus cities that we’ve chosen for CWH membership, you can have access to that community and our global roster of events.’

Why Cities Without Houses is the best-kept secret at Soho House | Soho House

Where did the idea for Cities Without Houses come from? 
‘I’ve been with Soho House for 12 years, and seven years ago Nick Jones came to me with an idea. We had members who lived all over the world, and not necessarily in London, New York, or the other places where we had Houses then. Nick was spending a lot of time meeting people in cities like Madrid, Hong Kong and Paris, and he had the idea to connect those communities without Houses; to build a membership for them and add value to those members’ lives. An added bonus was that we’d also get to know those cities better as a business.’

How was CWH developed? 
‘It’s been amazing to build it from scratch. We had never changed our membership model before CWH, so it was a big shift for the business and a really exciting one. We gathered members and got feedback to pick the cities to start with. We came up with 40 of the most interesting, with great creative scenes, so we assembled a team and went off into the world with our suitcases. We met as many people as possible – discovering the movers and shakers in key industries – and began to form committees, as we’ve always done. The committee is the foundation of any new community we build.

‘In the process of growing CWH, we have built a team of people who are passionate about supporting their communities through partnerships and events – and, in turn, have a group of members who really appreciate the intention behind what we do. The fact that we are able to produce expertly curated events two or three times a month in some markets speaks to how engaged our members are. Our communities in San Francisco and Atlanta, in particular, have high-frequency events, large and engaged bases, and intentional programming.’

Why is CWH an important part of the Soho House business?  
‘For me it diversifies our membership. I’m super interested in people and it’s been amazing to continue to meet members from all over the world. Our Houses are better for it. How interesting is it that you could be sitting at the Circle Bar in 40 Greek Street and find yourself next to a fashion designer from Tokyo, or an artist from Buenos Aires? It’s the beauty of Soho House, it’s made our membership more interesting. 

‘It’s also a great litmus test for potential Houses. It’s almost like we’re dating cities to see whether they like us, or whether we like them. It’s given us a foundation to understand how they work and whether the creative community is strong within them. It’s also given us an opportunity to think how a House would work in those locations. We’ve seen so many openings in locations where we have CWH communities, such as Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Rome, Paris, Austin, Nashville, Stockholm, Mexico City, Bangkok, and Copenhagen.’ 

Why Cities Without Houses is the best-kept secret at Soho House | Soho House
Why Cities Without Houses is the best-kept secret at Soho House | Soho House
Why Cities Without Houses is the best-kept secret at Soho House | Soho House

What have been the greatest achievements of CWH over the years? 
‘Seeing the aforementioned cities turn into Houses has been really satisfying. For those members who joined when we were trying to build a community with no physical space and then having a House so many years later is wonderful for those cities. It’s a real testament to what we’re doing. We would never have had a House in some of those locations were it not for CWH and us listening to our members. 

‘Over the years we have grown the markets from 40 cities to more than 80 cities, which shows that we understand there are places where we need to test the water and grow as a brand. We can’t be a global business without that footprint. We need to start building in Africa and doing more across Asia – markets where we don’t have much presence in currently.’

Tell us a bit about the events that you host – why are they important? 
‘The events started by us wanting to add value for those members living in cities without a House. They began organically as a way of bringing those members together and to connect them to Soho House. What started small has developed into a really strong events programme. It affords us the chance to give those members an experience of Soho House. What could be better than attending a pop-up in an unexpected location, drinking a Picante and meeting people you’ve never met before? Those unique experiences are really special and important. 

‘We collaborate a lot with members, local businesses and local brands, so for those cities it forms part of the ecosystem. We’ve also developed a One Night Only series, where we host a pop-up dinner with local chefs or Soho House food in a great location. We’ll bring a bartender and make House Tonics, and create a full Soho House experience. We’ve done it in so many locations and cities. We did a pop-up during SXSW in Sydney last year. It was the first time the festival-meets-conference event had been showcased outside Austin, where it’s from, so it was great to provide a home for our members there. We’ve also done pop-ups in Seoul and Singapore, to name just a few. 

‘Another event franchise we’ve created is Soho Weekenders, which involves the team curating a full weekend away for our members, with programming featuring local talent in a special location, alongside a curated group of interesting people. We’ve hosted them on the Algarve, in cabins in the woods of America, in a castle in Scotland, and pretty much everywhere in between.

‘Our music programming is also similar to what you’ll see in the Houses. We hosted events such as a Q&A and party with rapper Pusha T in Washington D.C. and chess with GZA from Wu-Tang Clan. Plus, multiple Sound Sessions featuring the likes of Japanese rapper Awich in Tokyo, Shygirl at our party to celebrate Art SG in Singapore, Masego in Singapore and Milan, and Akemi Fox in Manchester.

‘We also produce events around art and fashion weeks, as they bring many creative people to our pop-ups. We partnered with Valentino for Singapore Art Week, and Dimore Studio for both Salone del Mobile Milano and Milan Fashion Week. And, we’ve curated art and fashion-centred events in Cape Town, São Paulo, Bogotá, Lima, Buenos Aires, Milan, Zurich, Dubai, Madrid, Lisbon, and Sydney. These events have given us the ability to be present during key cultural moments.’

Why Cities Without Houses is the best-kept secret at Soho House | Soho House
Why Cities Without Houses is the best-kept secret at Soho House | Soho House

What are the plans for the future of CWH? 
‘This year, we’re going to see our CWH communities in certain locations getting a House – including Manchester, Portland and São Paulo – and there are some great cultural moments that we’ll do activations for. We’re excited about those at Art Basel in Basel, ARCO in Madrid and Lisbon, our Women’s History Month series in North America and Salone del Mobile in Milan, and Outside Lands in San Francisco. We’ll also do something for Frieze in Seoul. Plus, our music series Secret Sounds and Soho Presents will be at our cities around the globe, as well as a few new music franchises.’

What’s the best thing about CWH? 
‘It’s the intimate connections our members make through our events and community-based activations. They become lifelong friends, couples and business partners. They truly want to connect and meet like-minded people and, in turn, create a meaningful local community.’

Now you know everything there is to know about CWH, why wouldn’t you want to be a part of Soho House’s best-kept secret? Apply for Cities Without Houses membership here

If you’d like to recommend a friend who lives in a city without a House to become a member of Cities Without Houses, please use the ‘Propose a new member’ function on the app